Orioles feeling revived after first half
Baltimore now has its sight set on a winning record rest of way
BALTIMORE -- Sometimes, a long-term rebuilding project yields to a short-term renovation. The Orioles have been one of the biggest surprises in baseball this season, exceeding the modest expectations attached to their progress and leading some observers to wonder whether they'll be buyers or sellers at the non-waiver Trade Deadline in late July.
To a man, the individual players declare that they're not surprised by their resurgence. Take third baseman Melvin Mora, for instance, the longest-tenured member of the team. Mora, who has played for Baltimore for eight seasons -- all of them finishing with a losing record -- said recently that the Orioles have had enough of looking toward the future.
"Most of the people are talking about the future, but this is the time," Mora said. "It's not tomorrow and it's not the next day. It's not next year. This is the time. I may be hitting .220, but I like to come to the ballpark because we're winning. When you're hitting .300 and you're in last place, you just want to show up at 4:45 because you're playing for nothing.
"When you're playing for something, you just want to get there and do something to help."
The Orioles made moves before the season with the future in mind, trading ace Erik Bedard and shortstop Miguel Tejada in order to brighten the long-term prospects. But somewhere along the way, they molded a veteran roster into a vibrant mixture that has a chance to provide the franchise's first winning record since 1997.
Manager Dave Trembley points to the bullpen as the key crucible, lauding closer George Sherrill and eighth-inning arm Jim Johnson for making the Orioles more competitive at the most important points of the game. And perhaps more importantly, Trembley knows that the team's depth in pitching prospects means that the near future should be even brighter.
"We don't talk about last year," said Trembley. "But those of us that endured some of that suffering, at a particular point in time late in the season, I think our bullpen was less than Major League quality. That's not telling it anything other than the facts. We have better arms in the bullpen this year, and I think we have better arms in the system coming that are very close to making it very interesting -- not only in our starting rotation but finding a way into that bullpen."
Of course, that doesn't mean the Orioles will mortgage their future to compete now, but chief decision-maker Andy MacPhail will readily admit that he has "a wider spectrum of possibilities" than he anticipated in Spring Training.
"Clearly, we're pleased and delighted with the effort that our players have given us in a very tough division," said MacPhail, the team's president of baseball operations. "Fundamentally, it doesn't really change anything in that you're still going to evaluate things on a case-by-case basis and do what you think makes the most sense for your franchise."
|ORIOLES TOP PERFORMANCES|
4/06, BAL 3, SEA 2 -- Hernandez's walk-off
Luis Hernandez's walk-off single seals a three-run rally in the ninth.
4/12, BAL 3, TB 2 -- Can't catch this
Catcher Ramon Hernandez delivers a go-ahead homer in the ninth to give the O's the lead.
4/17, BAL 6, CWS 5 -- O's cap comeback
Adam Jones wins it for the Orioles in the 10th inning at Camden Yards.
6/14, BAL 8, PIT 7 -- Baltimore's wild win
Oscar Salazar's game-tying homer sets the stage for Ramon Hernandez's walk-off single.
6/18, BAL 2, HOU 1 -- Walk-off wizardry
Kevin Millar gives Baltimore its 21st comeback win of the season.
For now, there's one immediate goal in front of the Orioles, and that's to avoid the late-season swoons that have characterized their recent play. MacPhail has said that he'd like to acquire a shortstop to help the current team, but he's also said that he doesn't fully understand the trend of late-season collapses and isn't sure how to go about repairing them.
And for the individual players, they're just happy to be competitive and hopeful to continue their trajectory as long as possible.
"If we keep playing the way we're playing, hopefully that translates into more wins. You never know," said designated hitter Aubrey Huff. "I was reading one of those power rankings the other day, and we were No. 16 instead of 30th, where we started the season. There's a sense of accomplishment for a team that wasn't expected to do much."
"You look back at the end of the year, and if we've played well, we've competed and given ourselves a chance to win, then we'll be pretty satisfied with .500," added Jeremy Guthrie, the Orioles' Opening Day starter. "But at the end of the year, if we've given a lot of games away and we didn't do the things we're supposed to do, we wouldn't be satisfied.
"It's not the numbers as much as it is the process at which you get to the final record. I think each of us needs to look at that realistically. Whether it's 75 or 89 or 100 wins, that's how you're supposed to evaluate the season."
Spencer Fordin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.